Bradley Wiggins is one step closer to becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France, the Team Sky man this afternoon suceesfully countering a series of attacks in the Pyrenees from Liquigas Cannondale's Vincezo Nibali, who had started today's Stage 16 to Bagneres de Luchon in third place overall. On a day that took in some of the Tour's most fabled climbs, Europcar's Thomas Voeckler got into a big break that formed early on, with other escapees including mountains classification leader, Astana's Fredrik Kessiakoff. Voeckler would drop the Swede after the first climb and was first man over the four categorised climbs, enough to put him in the polka dot jersey this evening, and rode hard off the last of those to take his second stage victory of this year's race.
Cadel Evans' defence of the title he won 12 months ago came to an end today, the BMC Racing rider, who was struggling with stomach problems, getting dropped on the penultimate climb, the Col d'Aspin, and fighting hard to rejoin the GC group. However, he was dropped again on the Col du Peyresourde, and this time there would be no coming back, the Autralian losing nearly five minutes to the three men ahead of him in the overall standings. Wiggins, Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, and Nibali had crossed the line together around seven minutes behind Voeckler, and remain in that order on GC.
Although there is another big day in the mountains tomorrow with a summit finish at Peyragudes, today was widely seen as the last big chance for any of Wiggins’ rivals to take time back from him ahead of Saturday’s individual time trial from Bonneval to Chartres.
Once the day's break had got away, Team Sky set the tempo on the way up the day’s first climb, the Col d’Aubisque, and continued to do so over the Tourmalet, with Mark Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen among those doing their share of the work.
Nibali’s expected attack was a long time in coming, and followed his Liquigas Cannondale team mate, two-time Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso, forcing the pace at the front of the main group on the ascent of the Col d’Aspin and again on the Peyresourde, where Lotto-Belisol had also taken to the front, working for Juergen Van Den Broeck.
The Sicilian’s move came on the final part of the 9.5 kilometre climb of the Peyresourde, and only the two men ahead of him on GC were able to respond, Froome bringing Wiggins up to Nibali’s wheel.
Again, the Liquigas-Cannondale rider attacked, and again his rivals brought him back. He would try once more ahead of the summit but to no avail, this time Wiggins leading Froome in shutting him down, and remaining with him on the 15 kilomtres or so of descet to the finish.
Evans’ defence of his title was over by that point. Already on the Col d’Aspin, there were signs that he knew the game was up, with team mate Tejay Van Garderen, who leads the young rider’s classification ,allowed to ride off on his own; afterwards, the 24-year-old American would explain that his team leader was suffering as a result of stomach problems and the searing heat in which today’s stage was ridden.
The 2011 Tour de France winner is one of the sport’s great battlers, however, and fought hard to rejoin the front group by the time it was on the Peyresourde. That was only delaying the inevitable, though, and with Lotto Belisol’s Jelle Vanendert forcing the tempo, it was only a matter of time before Evans, for all his valiant effort, was dropped once more.
By that time, Voeckler was heading over the summit on his way to his fourth career stage win, and second of this year’s edition, in the race in which he has twice enjoyed long stints in the maillot jaune.
With the start of the day’s first climb, the Col d’Aubisque, coming just 37 kilometres into the stage, there were always going to be attacks from the off, and it was a big group that got away, with Voeckler’s Europcar team mate Yuki Arashiro leading him out to win the first mountains classification sprint from Kessiakoff.
On the Tourmalet, the front group was blown apart as Garmin-Barracuda’s Dan Martin, who had struggled with illness earlier in the race, attacked on the ascent. Only Voeckler and AG2R=La Mondiale’s Brice Feillu would be able to go with him, and it was the Europcar rider who again crested the summit first, in the process taking the €5,000 Souvenir Jacques Goddet prize awarded to the first man across.
Voeckler would lead Feillu again over the Col d’Aspin, but would be out on his own, nearly ten minutes ahead of the GC group with the remnants of the escape scattered along the road between tem by the time he crossed the summit of the Peyresourde.
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Chris Anker Sorensen was riding hard to try and reel the Frenchman back in, but the Dane would have to be content with second place,finishing the stage 1 minute 40 seconds down on Voeckler, with Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Gorka Izaguirre third, more than a minute and a half further back.
Missing from the start this morning, of course, was RadioShack-Nissan's Frank Schleck, third in last year's Tour de France, after his team withdrew him yesterday evening following news of his positive test for a banned diuretic from a sample he had given on Saturday's Stage 13.
The Luxembourg-based team's Chris Horner crashed into a ravine on the Aubisque today but was able to continue, as was the other 39-year-old American in the race, George Hincapie, riding the last of his record-breaking 17 editions of the race, who picked up some nasty-looking road rash in a crash today.
Katusha's Vladimir Gusev was another rider involved in a crash today, in his case with more serious consequences, the Russian abandoning with a broken collarbone.
Stage winner Thomas Voeckler of Europcar, new mountains classification leader:
“This morning at the start, considering the number of mountain that were spread across the stage, I couldn't really claim that I was the best rider to go and hunt the polka-dot jersey. There were at least a dozen riders who were in a similar position. Then, once the escape of 38 riders was established, I really felt I had good legs. But anyway, I approached this stage as if there were four races, one to the top of each of the climbs.
“I said we had to increase the pace on the climb of the Tourmalet, because the gap to the peloton was not significant enough. We worked with Yukiya (Arashiro), who accompanied me during my victory already on the day I won at Bellegarde-en-Valserine. And then, when we were with [Brice] Feillu, and only 30 seconds ahead of [Chris Anker] Sorensen and Vinokourov, I attacked because it was not sure of myself if I reached the top with them nearby. But once I crested the Peyresourde with a lead of a minute and a half, I could begin to appreciate what had been achieved already. I'm a good on descents so the stage victory then became a priority.
“I am very proud of what I did, because it resembles what I saw on TV when I was a kid. I'm in another dimension. It's cycling as I like to practice it. Now my priority is to defend the polka-dot jersey. And normally, my Tour will effectively be over once we finish the stage tomorrow!”
Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
"The team were brilliant from the off and we knew what we had to do. It was just a case of doing what we’ve been doing since the start of this race which is riding together as a team. It was another tough one, and obviously there weren’t many bodies left at the end. It’s good to get that one out of the way.
“This is what we’ve trained for and that’s what we’ve prepared for. We’ve trained for the demands of this race and for the demands of what this race consisted of in the third week. I think that’s what makes us the best riders in this race. All year it’s been about this and training in this kind of heat and for these climbs. The fitness and the recovery has been a team effort. The backroom staff - with the hydration when the stages finish and those little things all add up over the three weeks.
“Nibali was really concentrating on his podium spot today and I think he really wanted to distance Cadel before the final time trial which he did. It was tough but it’s another day we can tick off.
“On paper tomorrow’s stage doesn’t look as hard as it was today. It’s certainly a lot shorter and there will be a lot of tired bodies out there after today. It’s a case of people recovering and who recovers best at this stage. The one thing I keep saying is that no one has it easy out there. We’re all in the same boat and we all have to do the same course and tomorrow is another day.”
Sean Yates, Sports Director, Team Sky:
“The boys were amazing yet again. It’s got to the point where whatever we say isn’t doing them justice. This is no ordinary stage race. It’s the Tour de France and we are into the third week now and they have been consistently amazing.
“Everyone is hurting in the race but it panned out really well for us today. The break went without anyone really dangerous in it so we could just ride. Liquigas took it up a bit in a bid to get rid of Cadel. Then Brad and Froomey had the legs to follow Nibali when he tried to get away.
“It was probably the toughest stage of the Tour so to come through that in the manner we have done is a great achievement for the team.”
Defending champion Cadel Evans, BMC Racing, struck by illness today:
"I didn't think it would affect me in the race but obviously that's not my normal level and it's pretty much Tour de France over for me.
"I don't know that I'm far enough back to be allowed the freedom to go in a breakaway. You have to be optimistic but you also have to be realistic.
"Obviously this year things haven't been coming together. The year's not over but certainly the retirement present I wanted to give to George Hincapie this year. The hope and wish for that is gone."
Chris Horner, RadioShack-Nissan, on his crash today:
“I had switched out my bike and made it back to the group on the first climb. The guy in front of me sat up on the uphill and his bike started drifting back to me. He went right and I went left.
"That’s when I hit the edge of one of those concrete curbs and went down 12 feet and had to crawl back up. There was a lot of debris there to land on before I came to a tree that stopped me. Better the tree than continuing on down the slope.
"So I was able to crawl out on my hands and knees with some help. Dusted myself off, got a new bike and ready to go again. Thank God it was on the uphill, not the downhill. I didn’t have the legs to go with Nibali today. I was just in survival mode. It was the hardest day so far; a day of pain.”
Tweet of the Day:
"Thanks to many for the support on my sh!++y day....this is what makes it interesting right? I'll be back...#afteratoiletbreak #tdf" - Defending champion Cadel Evans, BMC Racing
Tour de France Stage 16 result 1 VOECKLER Thomas TEAM EUROPCAR 05h 35' 02'' 2 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK + 01' 40'' 3 IZAGUIRRE Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 03' 22'' 4 VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA PRO TEAM 5 FEILLU Brice SAUR-SOJASUN + 03' 58'' 6 VOIGT Jens RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 04' 18'' 7 MARTIN Daniel GARMIN-SHARP + 06' 08'' 8 STORTONI Simone LAMPRE - ISD 9 CARUSO Gianpaolo KATUSHA TEAM 10 TEN DAM Laurens RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 06' 11'' 11 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 07' 09'' 12 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 13 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING 14 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 08' 07'' 15 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 16 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 17 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 18 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM 19 COBO Juan Jose MOVISTAR TEAM 20 HORNER Christopher RADIOSHACK-NISSAN Last man home on Stage 16 152 ROELANDTS Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 06h 08' 54'' General Classification after Stage 16 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 74h 15' 32'' 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 05'' 3 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 23'' 4 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 05' 46'' 5 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 07' 13'' 6 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 07' 55'' 7 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 08' 06'' 8 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 09' 09'' 9 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR + 10' 10'' 10 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 11' 43'' Points Classification after Stage 16 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 356 pts 2 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 254 pts 3 GOSS Matthew ORICA GREENEDGE 203 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 130 pts 5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 127 pts Mountains Classification after Stage 16 1 VOECKLER Thomas TEAM EUROPCAR 107 pts 2 KESSIAKOFF Fredrik ASTANA PRO TEAM 103 pts 3 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 77 pts 4 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 55 pts 5 FEILLU Brice SAUR-SOJASUN 38 pts Young Rider's Classification after Stage 16 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 74h 23' 27'' 2 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 03' 48'' 3 KRUIJSWIJK Steven RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 45' 26''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.